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Why You Should Never Mislead or Lie to Employees

written by: Amber Neely•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 4/16/2012

Mark Twain once said, "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." This wise bit of advice can help you in the workplace, but if you're not completely convinced, you might want to check out these valid reasons for why you shouldn't lie or mislead your employees.

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    Why We Lie

    Honesty is the Best Policy Lying is something that occurs naturally in people. There is even a term for the developmental milestone when children begin to lie. It's called the Machiavellian intelligence, and it is universally noted as the time when children - usually around the age of four - will begin to lie without reason. The reasons we lie are as many in number as the types of lies we tell. Some people lie to avoid punishment, such as an employee who says that he thought his deadline was a day later than it was, in hopes that he can avoid being reprimanded for being late to finish a project. Sometimes people lie out of anger or jealousy. Sometimes people lie to make things easier on themselves, be it to please other people or potentially prevent difficult situations from arising. And of course, sometimes people lie to make themselves feel better, or to get what they want. While lying is normal, it really doesn't belong in the workplace, especially if you are lying to your employees. After all, you'd likely be mad if an employee were to lie to you, right? Lets explore some types of lying, as well as some of the problems that can arise from lying to employees.

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    Legal Repercussions of Lying

    Lying is a problem. Lying to employees can be a very big problem - especially if you lie about why an employee was terminated. If the employee knows that you fired them and lied about the reason, all they have to do is file a complaint with the EEOC - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - and you could be in trouble. A lot of trouble with the law. In fact, the wrongful termination of an employee can result in some pretty serious jail time and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines. Besides, if you're going to terminate an employee, at least make sure you tell them - and the unemployment office the truth about it. It works out better for all parties involved if you do it that way.

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    Reputation Damaging Effects of Lying

    First and foremost, if you're going to lie to employees, you can expect to get caught. You see, telling the truth is easy. You simply recall what had happened and why it had happened, and that's it. But when you're in the practice of lying to employees, you have to come up with a believable lie, and not only do you have to say it once, but you have to memorize it down to the littlest detail, lest the employee ask you a question and you come up a little fuzzy on details later. When you do get caught - and there's a good chance that you will - expect some serious damage to your reputation. Aside from legally being able to take you to court in serious cases, the employee will likely inform anyone within ear-shot that you've wronged them, and this includes presenting any proof they might have against you. With a damaged reputation, you can lose current employees, potential employees, clients, and give your business a permanent black mark in the eyes of the community. After all, a liar is a liar, no matter where you go.

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    Dangling the Bait

    One of the worst things that employers are prone to doing is dangling something an employee really wants or, worse, really needs in front of them to motivate them to do a better job. This can be anything from vacation time to bonuses, promotions, and more. This is an all-too common strategy, and unfortunately for employees, isn't contested very much and doesn't hold up well in any legal battles. So should you try to get away with it? Absolutely not! It's your job to take care of your employees, and your employees are tasked with taking care of the business by getting things done. Don't make false promises, and be sure to reward hard work when an employee goes above and beyond what is expected of them, even if all you can offer is a simple "Thank You."

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    Protecting Employees

    Sometimes employers lie to employees to protect an employee's feelings. For example, you have an employee who keeps doing poorly, but you find it very hard to tell them that their jobs are in danger because of repeated screw-ups. Finally, the employee messes up for the last time and gets fired on the spot. This is dangerous for a few reasons, the biggest being that the employee honestly had no chance to try to improve because they got no warning. This can create additional problems by giving the employee reason to believe that you are not being honest about the reason they were fired.

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    Misleading: Is it as Bad As Lying?

    It's a common practice for people to mislead each other. Sometimes employers think that it's okay to give an employee just enough information to get them to work harder. Sure, you might have never said outright that they were being considered for that big promotion, but you did say that they were "starting to look like promotion material" with the way they'd been working lately, even though you know that no matter what they did, the position had already been filled. Or maybe you tell an employee that is slacking that the company is going to start cutting people who aren't pulling their weight so they get work in early, even though there are no plans to fire anyone. Is this as bad as lying? In most cases, yes. Sure, there usually aren't any legal repercussions to scare tactics or giving employees false hope. But remember, you're going to start building up a reputation as someone who is deceitful if you do this repeatedly, so try to avoid it at all costs

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